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Aljamain Sterling feels ‘pretty good’ about odds he’ll fight next for UFC bantamweight title

The UFC bantamweight title picture has turned into an interesting puzzle with Henry Cejudo’s retirement announcement at UFC 249.

Should Cejudo’s retirement stick after his second-round TKO win over Dominick Cruz, Aljamain Sterling is certainly one of the pieces in play to crown a new champion. “Funk Master” recently joined MMA Fighting for the UFC on ESPN 8 preview show to give his take on where things stand in his decision.

“As far as what I can probably reveal, I believe the UFC is gonna have one last conversation with Cejudo just to make sure he’s definitive on retiring and then move on from there,” Sterling said. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen with Petr Yan, because I think he’s in Thailand right now. So I don’t know how the whole thing with the visa issues.

“Obviously, Dana White said he would like to crown a new champion relatively soon. That could be UFC 250, [or] UFC 251. We don’t know yet. But it all depends on how everything opens up with the economy in the world again, and from there, the UFC will better assess the landscape and make their decisions based on that.”

Even with the uncertainty, Sterling is optimistic.

“Right now, I feel good about my odds,” he said. “I posted a lot of content from my last fight and why I should be the next guy. I’m ranked No. 2 in the division, and my body of work speaks for itself.”

Sterling has won four consecutive bouts and five of his previous six to put himself at the top of the help at bantamweight. After a first-round knockout loss to Marlon Moraes that came on short notice in December 2017, the 30-year-old picked up a dominant decision win over the previously unbeaten Brett Johns in April 2018. Five months later, he submitted Cody Stamann at UFC 228 with a Suloev Stretch, or as Sterling likes to call it, the “Funk Strudel.”

The Serra-Longo trained fighter believes he has the edge over the likes of fellow top-tier bantamweight Petr Yan given his previous two wins.

Jimmie Rivera, who was ranked no. 5 at the time, I dispatched him,” Sterling stated. “One-sided victory. It was not a close affair like it was for Petr Yan against Jimmie Rivera, where Rivera did outstrike him and was pretty much winning the entire fight besides the last 20-30 seconds of rounds one and two, and ended up coming back to win round three.

“Of course, my last matchup with the always tough Pedro Munhoz—who knocked out the former champion in Cody Garbrandt in the first round—and got another dominant, one-sided victory.

“I think that my claim that I’ve been putting out is that I worked my ass off. I’m here, I’m a real threat, and I think I earned the right to stake my claim to why I should be challenging for a world title in the UFC’s bantamweight division. Where I’m sitting, I think I laid out a perfect timeline of everything. It’s been a year since I last fought with my last surgery, and I’m just excited to get back in there and put on a show. ‘The Funk Show’ is back, baby.”

While nothing has been officially announced, Sterling has been linked to a potential fight with another divisional contender, Cory Sandhagen, for UFC 250, which is tentatively scheduled for June 6.

After UFC 249, UFC President Dana White said if Cejudo’s retirement does stick – which Cejudo’s manager doesn’t believe will – it will be “Yan and somebody” to battle it out for the vacant title. Sterling was asked where he rates his chances of fighting for the title if the promotion moves forward in crowning a new champion.

“I’m at a 7.5 [or] 8 right now on a scale from 1-10,” Sterling said. “I feel pretty good about it. If not, I fight Cory Sandhagen, beat him up, hopefully get the finish, and I can’t be denied after that. He beat Assuncao, John Lineker, and arguably, I think he has a better resume than Petr Yan.

“Petr Yan just has the hype because he has the whole country of Russia behind him. When you look at the U.S., it’s a little weird, man because we have so many other sports and other things that we can watch and support that it’s hard to get the support of an entire country around you.

“Obviously, I rep Jamaica. I’m a first generation born Jamaican-American. My parents are born and raised in Jamaica, my grandparents are born and raised in Jamaica, my other family still lives in Jamaica, and I still go back there. People give me a little bit of sh*t for that but, honestly, is anyone from the states a real American, born and raised in terms of their families and everything? I think everyone is kind of an immigrant somehow, and I wasn’t raised in an American society at home. My household was a Jamaican household, so I got all my traditions, all my roots and culture in tact, so I’m able to support both countries.”

It could be be a four-way conversation for the bantamweight title if Cejudo is in fact out of the picture: Sterling, Yan, Sandhagen and the No. 1 ranked Marlon Moraes. With questions unanswered, Sterling is only concerned with what he can control right now.

“I’m still focused on Cory Sandhagen,” Sterling said. “He’s the guy I’m still studying. If we have to make some slight adjustments, if it’s for Petr Yan, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully they can get him into the country and see if we can make this thing go down. If not, we’ll just wait and see what the UFC wants to do.”

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